Agrippina: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Early Empire

Agrippina: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Early Empire

Anthony A. Barrett

Language: English

Pages: 352

ISBN: 0300078560

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Agrippina the Younger attained a level of power in first-century Rome unprecedented for a woman. According to ancient sources, she achieved her success by plotting against her brother, the emperor Caligula, murdering her husband, the emperor Claudius, and controlling her son, the emperor Nero, by sleeping with him. Modern scholars tend to accept this verdict. But in his dynamic biography-the first on Agrippina in English-Anthony Barrett paints a startling new picture of this influential woman. Drawing on the latest archaeological, numismatic, and historical evidence, Barrett argues that Agrippina has been misjudged. Although she was ambitious, says Barrett, she made her way through ability and determination rather than by sexual allure, and her political contributions to her time seem to have been positive. After Agrippina's marriage to Claudius there was a marked decline in the number of judicial executions and there was close cooperation between the Senate and the emperor; the settlement of Cologne, founded under her aegis, was a model of social harmony; and the first five years of Nero's reign, while she was still alive, were the most enlightened of his rule. According to Barrett, Agrippina's one real failing was her relationship with her son, the monster of her own making who had her murdered in horrific and violent circumstances. Agrippina's impact was so lasting, however, that for some 150 years after her death no woman in the imperial family dared assume an assertive political role.
















with him and he was eventually sent into permanent exile on the island of Planasia, near Corsica.21 The loss of his old friend Agrippa created special problems for Augustus. In his grandsons he had heirs of his own line, but there was no-one to safeguard their interests after his death. Julia would clearly have to remarry, and the obvious candidate for the vacant position of husband was Livia’s older son Tiberius. He had remained essentially outside the line of succession up to this point, and

(Pl. 10). They stand side by side, their bodies facing forward, each identified by name. On the left Agrippina represents Securitas, with her head turned to the right and a cornucopia in her right hand. Her right arm rests on a column and her left hand on Drusilla’s shoulder. Drusilla as Concordia stands in the centre, her head turned left. She holds a flat dish, or patera, in her right hand and a cornucopia in her left. Finally Julia Livilla stands at the right, representing Fortuna, her head

the later structure, and the famous World War II campaign added to the damage; consequently our knowledge of this part of the villa is to some extent based on seventeenth-century illustrations. Also, to the east of the pier well-preserved floors have survived, similarly belonging to the structure’s earliest phases. Coarelli speculates that Augustus had inherited the villa from his great-grandfather and had initiated considerable rebuilding. Later phases can be attributed to Nero, Domitian,

rewarded with an extraordinary series of three consulships. Vitellius will play an important part in Agrippina’s schemes, and he used his abilities as a mediator and negotiator with consummate skill.13 While not a man noted for moral courage or independence of spirit, Vitellius was considered free from profound flaws of character. The same cannot be said for Claudius’ other senatorial lieutenant, Publius Suillius Rufus. Suillius was the son of the famous six-times-married Vistilia and

Cleopatra and Calpurnia, were instructed by the freedman to convey the warning to Claudius (Narcissus clearly knew his master’s recreational activities) and he was persuaded by them to call in Narcissus for advice. The freedman performed brilliantly. It was not Messalina’s adulteries, he claimed, that caused him concern, disingenuously asking forgiveness for his silence over her previous indiscretions. The crisis in this case was that a marriage had taken place and that Claudius was, in effect,

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